Partisan movement hits city trails

Posted: Monday, June 06, 2005

Hundreds of tiny flags of Gov. Frank Murkowski's face, glued to toothpicks and stuck in piles of dog excrement along Juneau's trails and parks, are surprising hikers and trail officials.

In the last week, the 2-inch flags have been reported on Perseverance Trail, the Flume Trail, Mendenhall Trail, Sheep Creek Trail, Fish Creek Trail, and at Capital Park, Twin Lakes Park, Cope Park and False Outer Point.

"We've heard about them everywhere from Douglas to the Valley," said Bob Grochow, city parks and landscape superintendent. "We've seen it on trails and in the parks, and elsewhere around town. We have no idea what's going on."

So far, the flags appear to be confined to city and state parks and trails. Pete Griffin, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, hadn't heard about the prank Friday.

"We have not had any complaints of that taking place on a national forest system trail," Griffin said. "If it happens, our law enforcement will be on the job."

Grochow said his maintenance crew began noticing the flags about a week ago.

"It could be a comment on a couple of things," Grochow said. "We're just as concerned about the dog droppings that are left behind," he said. "That's really a public health issue and an employment health issue for our staff that are mowing, trimming and picking up litter."

Becky Hultberg, spokeswoman for Gov. Murkowski, said the Juneau flags came to her attention during the middle of last week.

"I have no idea who's doing it, and how long they've been doing it," Hultberg said.

"Clearly it's a prank, and clearly some people have extremely poor taste," she said. "It's unfortunate that people choose to express their opinions in such a disrespectful way."

The escapade, and the design of the flags, is almost identical to a prank that's been going on in Germany for more than a year.

In Bayreuth, an individual or group has been sticking miniature toothpick flags of President George Bush into piles of dog waste, according to the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center. Almost 3,000 flags have been found in parks across the German city.

In Juneau, the flags are showing up by the dozens, even on the steep, 1,900-foot rise in the first mile of the Sheep Creek Trail.

"It seems like everyone is talking about it," said Sue McGregor, dog owner and avid trail hiker.

"It must be a fairly concerted effort for them to have appeared in such a short time at so many different places," she said. "I'd love to know who was doing it. Maybe I could get them to pick up the dog poop out there."

McGregor is a member of The Grateful Dogs of Juneau, a year-old advocacy group for dog-walking rights. The group hits the trails once a month to clean up stray piles.

"The Grateful Dogs hasn't even discussed it, but of course we're concerned about the dog poop," McGregor said.

"I'm sure it will come up at the next meeting," she said. "I don't know if somebody is trying to make a political statement, and I don't know whether we can do anything about it."

McGregor saw her first Murkowski flag last Thursday, just past the parking lot on the short trail to False Outer Point.

"Dogs poop in the first 50 yards of the trail, and that's where the flags were," McGregor said. "Then I saw a couple the next day on the south side of Fish Creek Trail. That surprised me, because I didn't think that many people went back there."

James King, executive director of the nonprofit trail-maintenance organization Trail Mix Inc., has also seen some of the flags. He declined to comment.

The penalty for sticking a small flag in a pile of dog excrement would be the same as littering. Juneau police charge $100 for the first offense, $150 for the second offense in two years and $200 for the third offense in two years.

"I imagine we'd give them a verbal warning," Grochow said. "If we caught them again, it would be an issue for (Juneau police)."

"(Littering) is leaving anything in the woods that shouldn't be there," Griffin said. "It wouldn't matter whose name was on the flag."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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